Aside from my father’s death I have to admit that my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a neighborhood that was like a small town. For many of us who resided there it centered on Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church which also offered a first through eighth grade education to those willing to pay the relatively small tuition. The area and the church were shiny and new back then and booming with the children of World War II veterans. Much like any suburban subdivision the homes ran the gamut from custom built brick to wooden ,models. The people who lived there were mostly middle class with those on the higher economic end having college degrees and professional titles.
My family lived at the outer edge of what was known as Overbrook. Our home was quite basic with three bedrooms and one bathroom. It was quite different from the one that we had when my father was alive with it’s extra bathrooms, built in bookcases, wood paneling and formal dining area. Nonetheless it was a great place to be as a child and I will be forever grateful to my mother for providing me and my brothers with the security of living in such a safe and child centered place.
My mother was an old school religious woman who believed that it was imperative to send her children to Catholic school and so she enrolled me and my brothers in Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as soon as it was time to begin our educations. The experience was nothing short of delightful.
The school was bursting at the seams back then. There were at least four sections of every single grade with twenty five to thirty children in each classroom. Every grade level was anchored by a School Sister of Notre Dame and the other teaching spots were filled with lay people. My mother managed to give us the private school education by working as a teacher there. We were allowed to attend at no cost and she received a small salary that helped us make ends meet at home. It could not have been a more perfect situation for any of us.
We had no air conditioning in the classrooms in those days which meant that for many months of the school year it was rather hot. Somehow we never seemed to mind the stifling air but it was admittedly nice to have a seat next to one of the big fans that whirred constantly as we learned, and learn we did in those halcyon days.
Our teachers were tough, but kind, (with the exception of one.) Our school was known throughout the city for being one of the best. We were well schooled in grammar, usage, literature, writing, mathematics, history, science and of course religion. I literally grew up with the same group of friends year after year as I advanced through the grades. Many of my pals’ mothers taught alongside my mother and from them I accumulated so much knowledge that I was still explaining to professors in college where I had become so well educated.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel School had sports teams of every variety and a drill team that became one of my favorite groups. By the time I was in the eighth grade I was the captain of the twirlers and enjoying the kinship of young ladies that I know to this very day. The school and its people were well known for excellence and so I was rather proud to be part of it all.
I eventually moved on to Mt. Carmel High School, then college and finally to my adult life. Just as I had changed so too did my old neighborhood and with it, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School. Many of the old families had moved away and the new occupants of the homes more often than not did not have either the inclination nor the income to send their children to a private school. My old alma mater struggled to stay afloat as even the School Sisters of Notre Dame moved away and the salaries for lay teachers became a burden on the budget.
With each passing year it became more and more difficult to keep the school going. The buildings were no longer shiny and new. In fact, they began to have a careworn appearance that spoke of the problems getting students and teachers to keep things going. The academic excellence that my friends and I had experienced was slowly eroding until the Diocese of Galveston Houston decided to rescue the school from total bankruptcy. It seemed important to be able to provide the new residents of the area with an opportunity to give their children a Catholic school education but the reality is that the school was only a shell of what it had once been in spite of herculean efforts from dedicated individuals intent on keeping the fine tradition of the school alive.
There have been countless victims of the current pandemic. The world mourns the people who have lost their lives to this virus. We also hear of businesses that have closed and will never again open. Both our personal and economic health is reeling. Among the casualties is my old school, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In late April the diocese announced that it, along with some other struggling schools,\\\\ would be permanently closed siting a lack of funding to keep things going any longer.
I suppose that the death of Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been in the cards for many years. I had witnessed its demise when I traveled to the old neighborhood to tutor students at Cristo Rey College Preparatory which is situated next door. I saw the peeling paint, patched roof and pothole rutted parking lot instead of the building that had been so modern and glorious when I was a student there. I spoke with people who taught there and realized how desperate their situation had become. While they worked to save the school that they loved they understood that it was getting more and more difficult to find students to fill the seats. The people living nearby often struggle just to get by. It is doubtful that many of them had the income necessary to pay tuition. Now with churches lagging behind in their contributions each Sunday because they have been closed I am sure that the diocese realized that the luxury of keeping schools such as Mt. Carmel afloat was no longer an option.
I’m filled with great sadness at this news. I worry that there will be so many more losses of once fine institutions before all is said and done. I grieve for those students who will no longer have this school as an option. Maybe it is indeed for the best, but I profoundly sad that my old school is no more. I will have to be content with my memories which include the magnificent education that I found there and the forever friends who shared those glorious times with me.